Pyramid Schemes: There's A New Menu of Food Groups

Government ditches one-size-fits-all food pyramid in favor of a dozen different guides.

April 20, 2005 — The familiar color-coded pyramid chart illustrating the government's recommended daily food servings has been 86'd in favor of a dozen different guides geared to meet individual nutritional needs and lifestyles.

Why the makeover? Since the food pyramid first debuted in 1992, replacing the four squares, people have steadily grown fatter—with obesity creeping up at a younger age. In fact, the American Heart Association said this week that childhood obesity has become such a threat to public health that it could reverse the last half-century's gains in reducing cardiovascular disease and death.

Additionally, since 1992, knowledge about nutrition and food consumption patterns has grown significantly. It is now possible take a more personal approach to one's eating habits, incorporating even simple and modest improvements in nutrition, physical activity, and lifestyle behavior to make a significant benefit to one's overall health.

One of the biggest goals the "My Pyramid" set-up aims to achieve is helping people control their portion sizes. The old pyramid explained its advice in "serving" sizes, but the new guides switches to cups, ounces, and other household measures to try to make its advice more understandable.

Visually the new "My Pyramid" guides still have the familiar rainbow-colored bands representing different food groups, but they run vertically from the tip to the base rather than horizontally, as they did in the old version.

Other things that are now emphasized in the My Pyramid set-up:

    • Choosing good carbohydrates over bad ones (like whole-wheat bread instead of white bread)
    • Eating 3 ounces of whole-grain foods a day
    • Eating 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables a day
    • Drinking 3 cups of fat-free or lowfat milk a day
    • 30 minutes of daily exercise to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and even more exercise to prevent weight gain or maintain weight loss

      The new guides are based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which was released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in January. These Guidelines provide advice for people two years of age and older about how proper dietary habits can promote health and reduce the risk or major chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

      The USDA provides the following tips for parents on ways they can help to meet these new food guidelines:

        • Set a good example for children by eating whole grains, vegetables, and fruit with meals or as snacks
        • Let children do the following: Select and help prepare a whole grain side dish; decide on the dinner vegetables or what goes in salad; choose what fruits they eat with lunch
        • Depending on their age, have children help shop for, clean, peel, or cut up vegetables and fruits
        • Allow children to pick a new fruit or vegetable to try while shopping
        • Add fat-free or low-fat milk instead of water to oatmeal and hot cereals
        • Pack a juice box (100% juice) in children's lunches versus soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages
        • Make a dip for fruits or vegetables from yogurt
        • Top casseroles, soups, stews, or vegetables with shredded low-fat cheese
        • Try a baked potato with fat-free or low-fat yogurt
        • For dessert, make chocolate or butterscotch pudding with fat-free or low-fat milk
        • Make fruit kabobs using pineapple chunks, bananas, grapes, and berries
        • Offer raisins or other dried fruits instead of candy

          Not everyone thinks the new "My Pyramid" guides are a success. The nutrition policy director for the nonprofit group The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Margo G. Wootan, said in a statement that by making "one size doesn't fit all" the mantra, and by replacing one pyramid with 12, the government has made its advice more complicated than it needs to be. Wootan thinks there are simple key principles about healthy eating that truly do work for all Americans, and those could have been represented on one symbol.

          What do you think of the new guidelines? Do you find the overhaul simple or confusing? Are you worried about the childhood obesity epidemic? Share your thoughts on our message board below:

          Additional resources -- including clever ways to sneak more veggies into your family's meals -- from Parents.com: